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Photography And What It Means To Me

When I sat down to begin writing this short piece about photography and what it means to me, I had to pause for a moment and think about how I ended up here to begin with.  Many (many) years ago, I took my first photography class in school. I remember the teacher handing out these beat-up, community-use 35mm cameras for us to use; to shoot a roll of black and white film around the school grounds during art class. My classmates and I took pictures of all sorts of random things, none of which, of course, had any artistic intent. Mostly, we simply enjoyed hearing the sound of the shutter click and the whirring of the motor advancing the film to the next frame. It was also a great freedom to be out of the classroom. Later on, we learned to develop our rolls of film in the darkroom. I can still see myself standing over the developer bath, the smell of the chemicals hanging in the air, illuminated only by the eerie red glow of the  so-called darkroom-safe lamps. It was not love at first try.

Decades later, I rediscovered photography as something entirely different. I was older, for sure, and the technology had certainly changed. But the thing that struck me the most was the realization, as an adult, that the beauty of capturing an image lies in the way in which that photograph can transport us through time. While other forms of visual art might serve as a representation of the past - an artist's interpretation of something that happened before the present - a photograph literally captures a single instant in time. One that can never be erased or repeated.

In the image above, two women are walking closely together, away from a vendor cart on the cobbled streets of Frankfurt, Germany. I was standing by the footer of the Eiserner Steg bridge, located out of the frame and to my left. These two ladies had just bought fresh-baked pretzels and were making their way past me and toward the bridge to cross the river. By most accounts, this is an unremarkable photograph. But what makes it special to me is the recollection of the moment. The scent of the warm pretzel dough mixed with that of the cold rain covering the cobbles; the sound of the automobiles rushing by behind the cart; and the feel of a chill, deep in my bones, as I leaned against the stone bridge to steady myself as I snapped this picture. I remember the sound of these two women giggling, speaking to one another in their native German. It seemed as though they might have been recounting a story of some kind, and in so doing, not once breaking from the dialogue to ask for a pretzel. One of them simply held up two fingers and motioned to the vendor, glancing at the glass case, never once slowing her speak.

I look at this photo now, years after it was taken, and I am instantly taken back to that moment in time. I think back and wonder about the story they were exchanging. What, or who, it was about. I wonder how these two individuals knew each other to begin with, and what has happened to them since. I wonder about all the details I missed the first time I saw them, like why their hats matched in style but not in lettering. The meaning of this photograph, as with all the images I try to capture, is measured not by it's immediate appearance, but by these unanswered questions; their elusive answers; and all the stories one can make up to fill the spaces in between.